If you ever want the Captain Lawrence tasting room almost completely to yourself, the time to go is Wednesday around 4 p.m. People will knock off work early on a Thursday or Friday, but not so much on Hump Day. The handful of people there at that hour aren’t all that excited to talk to some inquisitive dude with a notebook and, worse, a camera—either they’re working, or they should be working.
Around 5, it’s a different story. The house music comes on; it’s Neil Young. People filter in, including a blind priest from Belarus escorted by a young woman, who gathers a few samples of the malty Black Lodge Stout for the two of them. It was just Holy Week, he says, and now it’s time to unwind.
The man does not offer up his name. After emigrating to the U.S., he served in the armed forces in the ‘50s, and encountered a young private from the south by the name of Elvis Presley. After entering the priesthood, he was stationed in Germany and Milwaukee, which helped him develop a love of locally brewed beer. “I think America would be in dire straits without good microbreweries,” he says.
The blind padre tells me to always take care of my vision. “It’s your window to the world!” the priest says.
The place fills up more. Amy Goetz of Manhattan is kind of, sort of working—she plans to open a brewery, and is doing a bit of research. She tries something different every time she comes to Captain Lawrence; today, it’s the small-batch Waning Gibbous Belgian-style wheat ale, named for the lunar phase following a full moon. “She knows every brewery in the country,” brags pal J.C. Esbejo of White Plains.
J.C. prefers the Imperial IPA. “I used to drink regular beer,” he says. “Until I started drinking Captain Lawrence.”
Amy already has a name picked out for her brewing operation: All-Star Ale. “I liked Karma Craft,” she says, but the name was a little to close to an existing champagne purveyor. That might be bad for the karma.
Neil’s “Down By the River” is on, fitting because we’re chatting with Paul and son Matt Rachlin of the beloved river town of Tarrytown. Paul loves the Captain Lawrence IPA. “I’m from Vermont and I’ve had Heady Topper,” he says of the IPA from Alchemist Brewery in Waterbury that has a rabid following. “This one is better.”
Also in their party: Paul’s brother John of Ashland, Massachusetts. They’re trying to find a career for young Matt.
“I thought to myself, he really needs a job, and what’s an ideal place to work?” says Paul. He answers his own question: “A brewery! I said, let’s go and check it out.”
Matt appears to see a future in making beer. “Seems like a cool place,” he says with a content shrug.
Finally, we encounter a party that’s not thinking a thing about work. In fact, Dana and Jake Cooney were married just three days before, out in Stony Brook, Long Island, on a picture-perfect day. They’re on their “mini-‘moon,” they say, before the full-fledged vacation to Italy in the fall. Bronx Zoo. Hiking. Lunch at Peekskill Brewery, beer samples at Captain Lawrence. “It’s very warm, very inviting,” says Dana as she sips a Liquid Gold. “And I like the Neil Young on the stereo.”
With help from her brother Greg, Dana and Jake brewed their own beer for the wedding: a Belgian style ale, enhanced with elderflower, rose hips and lavender. The cleverly titled “Nuptiale” weighed in at a whopping 9.6% ABV.
“It came out really, really good!” enthuses Dana. “We were surprised!”
They are back to work the following day. But until then, there are samples to drink and memories to make. Others are stuck at work or jammed in rush-hour traffic, but the tasting room denizens—the newlyweds and job-seekers, the aspiring brewers and wise old priests--are just where they want to be.
The “Notes From the Tasting Room” book is available at the brewery and on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Notes-Captain-Lawrence-Tasting-Room/dp/0985632844/